I have a confession.
No, I’m not confessing to some large crime (or any crime for that matter) nor am I guilty of doing anything wrong … at least not that I’d be willing to admit here.
Instead, I need to confess to something a little more innocent.
I’ve not always been a NASCAR fan. In fact, I didn’t go to my first NASCAR race until October 2007 — five months after I started working for NASCAR.
When I went to work for NASCAR in May of that year, I knew very little about the sport I would come to love and respect. Despite growing up in the heart of NASCAR country, I had never watched a NASCAR race on TV, much less been to a race.
It was a mild surprise to some of my family and friends when I announced I was going to work for NASCAR.
I remember my first day almost as if it were yesterday. I showed up not knowing what to expect or if I’d even be taken seriously due to my lack of knowledge about the sport.
Since I was hired in the Publishing/Licensing department, my main role was to edit, proofread and fact-check every NASCAR-licensed book and magazine. This seemed pretty easy enough to me and something I’d probably enjoy doing.
The first project I was given was a thick manuscript with more than 300 pages. I went to my desk to settle in and start editing, proofreading and learning something about this sport.
Instead of being given a book about the history of NASCAR or a historic race or a great driver, the first book I had to edit during my tenure at NASCAR was a Harlequin Romance novel.
Yes, I had to turn in my “man card” on my very first day in NASCAR.
I say all this because it leads directly to how I got my first die-cast. Perhaps because they felt sorry for me or because my desk was barren (minus the large manuscript), one of my new colleagues gave me a decoration for my desk — an Action Racing Collectables die-cast of Denny Hamlin’s 2007 No. 11 FedEx Ground Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
Because I was now in possession of a Hamlin die-cast and for a long time it was the only thing on my desk, people constantly asked if I was a fan.
My standard answer to that type of question throughout my tenure with NASCAR and even now with Lionel Racing is that I’m a fan of a good story and I don’t like or dislike any one driver. I root for the come-from-behind win against all odds, a photo finish with both cars banging and rubbing, a historic win for a driver, an awesome paint scheme with a cool story or a car or driver with a connection to that particular time and place. I simply love a good story when it comes to NASCAR.
So, why did I end up with one of Hamlin’s cars when I could have just as easily chosen a Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart car for my work space?
The answer is simple … I didn’t know many of the drivers nor their car numbers. I knew some of the bigger names, but I wanted a die-cast of a driver who wasn’t so mainstream and popular yet.
The person who gave me my first die-cast (and I hate that I forgot who it was) asked me who my favorite driver was and which die-cast I wanted. I didn’t have a favorite driver, so I asked for the No. 11 car. I quickly learned that the driver was 2006 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Denny Hamlin. It seemed like a good choice to me.
I chose the No. 11, because, whenever I had the choice, I always wore the No. 11 jersey growing up playing soccer and baseball … and one very misguided basketball season when I rode the bench 95% of the time.
Nine years later, it’s safe to say I’ve learned more about NASCAR than I could have ever imagined and even wrote a book about the sport in 2012. But not only that, I’ve come to love and appreciate the sport and I’m still constantly pulling for the good story.
I still have my first die-cast and despite it not being the flashiest or coolest car in my collection I will always treasure it for what it means to me and my start in this crazy and wonderful sport.